Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson Admits to Making Mistakes But Defends COVID Record

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his handling of COVID-19 on Wednesday at a public inquiry into the pandemic, saying his government “got some things wrong” but did its best.

Johnson began two days of questioning under oath by lawyers for the judge-led inquiry about his initial reluctance to impose a national lockdown in early 2020 and other fateful decisions.

Johnson opened his testimony with an apology “for the pain and the loss and the suffering of the COVID victims,” though not for any of his own actions. Four people stood up in court as he spoke, holding signs saying: “The Dead can’t hear your apologies,” before being escorted out by security staff.

“Inevitably, in the course of trying to handle a very, very difficult pandemic in which we had to balance appalling harms on either side of the decision, we may have made mistakes,” Johnson said. “Inevitably, we got some things wrong. I think we were doing our best at the time.”

Johnson had arrived at the inquiry venue at daybreak, several hours before he was due to take the stand, avoiding a protest by relatives of some of those victims.

Among those wanting answers from the inquiry are families of some of the more than 230,000 people in the U.K. who died after contracting the virus. A group gathered outside the office building where the inquiry was set, some holding pictures of their loved ones. A banner declared: “Let the bodies pile high” — a statement attributed to Johnson by an aide. Another sign said: “Johnson partied while people died.”

Johnson was pushed out of office by his own Conservative Party in mid-2022 after multiple ethics scandals, including the revelation that he and staff members held parties in the prime minister’s Downing Street offices in 2020 and 2021, flouting the government’s lockdown restrictions.

Former colleagues, aides and advisers have painted an unflattering picture of Johnson and his government over weeks of testimony.

Former Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said Johnson was “bamboozled” by science. In diaries that have been seen as evidence, Vallance also said Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate.” Former adviser Dominic Cummings, now a fierce opponent of Johnson, said the then-prime minister asked scientists whether blowing a hair dryer up his nose could kill the virus. 

Former senior civil servant Helen McNamara described a “toxic,” macho culture inside Johnson’s government, and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the country’s top civil servant, called Johnson and his inner circle “basically feral.”

Johnson defended his government, saying it contained “challenging” characters “whose views about each other might not be fit to print, but who got an awful lot done.”

The U.K. has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in Europe, with the virus recorded as a cause of death for more than 232,000 people.

Johnson said he was “not sure” whether his government’s decisions had caused excess deaths. He said deciding when to impose lockdowns and other restrictions had been “painful.”

“People point, quite rightly, to the loss of education, the economic damage, the missed cancer and cardiac appointments, and all the other costs,” he said. “When it came to the balance of the need to protect the public and protect the (health service), and the damage done by lockdowns, it was incredibly difficult.”

Johnson agreed in late 2021 to hold a public inquiry after heavy pressure from bereaved families. The probe, led by retired Judge Heather Hallett, is expected to take three years to complete, though interim reports will be issued starting next year.

The inquiry is divided into four sections, with the current phase focusing on political decision-making. The first stage, which concluded in July, looked at the country’s preparedness for the pandemic.

Johnson has submitted a written evidence statement to the inquiry but has not handed over some 5,000 WhatsApp messages from several key weeks between February and June 2020. They were on a phone Johnson was told to stop using when it emerged that the number had been publicly available online for years. Johnson later said he’d forgotten the password to unlock it.

A Johnson spokesman said the former prime minister had not deleted any messages but a “technical issue” meant some had not been recovered. 

Zelenskyy to Meet with G7 Leaders

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to appear Wednesday before a virtual meeting of leaders from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations.

Zelenskyy will have the opportunity to brief the leaders on the situation in Ukraine nearly two years into a Russian invasion that prompted dozens of nations to provide military and humanitarian support for the Ukrainian side.

Wednesday’s meeting comes a day after Zelenskyy canceled a video appearance with members of the U.S. Senate where he was expected to advocate for continued military support.

“Zelenskyy, by the way, could not make it to — something happened at the last minute — to our briefing,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told a news conference.

Schumer said Zelenskyy had been invited to speak via video at a classified briefing so those at the meeting could “hear directly from him precisely what’s at stake” and help lawmakers vote on a bill that includes billions of dollars in new aid for Ukraine.

Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned in a letter to congressional leaders Monday that by the end of the year, the United States will no longer have the funds to send weapons and assistance to Ukraine. Ukraine “will not be able to keep fighting,” Young said, noting that the U.S. also has run out of money for propping up Ukraine’s economy.

“We’re running out of money, and we are nearly out of time,” U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “A vote against supporting Ukraine is a vote to improve [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s strategic position.”

On the battlefield, Ukraine’s half-year-long counteroffensive has largely stalled against entrenched Russian forces, with only limited territorial gains in the eastern part of the country.

In October, the Biden administration asked Congress for nearly $106 billion to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. border security.

But funding for Ukraine has become politically controversial, with some right-leaning lawmakers in the narrowly Republican-controlled House of Representatives opposing further assistance, contending the aid is not in U.S. interests.

Ukraine’s air force said Wednesday that Russia attacked overnight with 48 drones, with Ukrainian air defenses downing 41 of them.    

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Turkey-Greece Summit Aims to Resolve Long-Standing Tensions

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Greece on Thursday for a summit with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The meeting comes after years of tensions that brought them to the brink of war. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

UK Interior Minister Signs New Rwanda Treaty to Resurrect Asylum Plan

British interior minister James Cleverly signed a new treaty with Rwanda on Tuesday in an attempt to overcome a court decision to block the government’s controversial policy of sending asylum seekers to the East African country.

The Rwanda plan is at the centre of the government’s strategy to cut migration and is being watched closely by other countries considering similar policies.

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court last month ruled that such a move would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation.

The new treaty will include an agreement that Rwanda would not expel asylum seekers to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened – one of the court’s major concerns.

There will also be a monitoring committee to enable individuals to lodge confidential complaints directly to them and a new appeal body made up of judges from around the world.

Cleverly said there was now no “credible” reason to block the deportation flights because the treaty addressed all the issues raised by the Supreme Court and no extra money had been given to Rwanda to upgrade the deal from the existing memorandum of understanding.

“I really hope that we can now move quickly,” Cleverly told a press conference in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.

Many lawyers and charities said it was unlikely that deportation flights could start before next year’s election. The opposition Labour Party, which has a double-digit lead in the polls, plans to ditch the Rwanda policy if it wins.

Under the plan agreed last year, Britain intends to send thousands of asylum seekers who arrived on its shores without permission to Rwanda to deter migrants crossing the Channel from Europe in small boats.

In return, Rwanda has received an initial payment of 140 million pounds ($180 million) with the promise of more money to fund the accommodation and care of any deported individuals.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under intense pressure to cut net migration, which hit a record 745,000 last year, with the vast majority coming through legal routes.

“Stop the boats” is one of five goals Sunak set for his government, to end the flow of asylum seekers who pay people smugglers for their Channel crossings, often in overcrowded boats that are not seaworthy.

The Supreme Court ruled against the Rwanda plan because there was a risk that deported refugees would have their claims wrongly assessed or returned to their country of origin to face persecution.

The new treaty is expected to be followed later this week by the publication of legislation declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country, designed to stop legal challenges against the planned deportation flights.

However, this is likely to trigger a new round of political and legal wrangling. The first flight was scheduled to go last summer but was cancelled at the last moment because of legal challenges.

Sarah Gogan, an immigration lawyer at Harbottle & Lewis, said Rwanda’s human rights record meant the government’s policy would be challenged.

“Rwanda is an unsafe country and this is not a quick fix,” she said. “You cannot in a matter of weeks or months reform a country and turn it into one with an impartial judiciary and administrative culture.”

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman, dismissed the government’s latest plans as another “gimmick.”

Netherlands Returns Colonial-Era Artifacts to Sri Lanka

The Netherlands returned six artifacts including a cannon, a ceremonial sword and two guns taken from Sri Lanka more than 250 years ago on Tuesday, as part of efforts by the former colonial power to redress historical wrongs, officials said.

Sri Lanka asked the Netherlands to return the artifacts after the Dutch government approved the restitution of historic objects in 2021.

The artifacts were taken in 1765 from Kandy, the last kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka, when the Dutch besieged the palace, a statement from the Netherlands embassy said.

“The objects were wrongfully brought to the Netherlands during the colonial period, acquired under duress or by looting,” it added.

Sri Lanka is grateful to the government and the people of the Netherlands for returning the artifacts, said Buddhasasana Religious and Cultural Affairs Minister Vidura Wickramanayake.

“There are more to come. Not only from the Netherlands but also from other countries like Great Britain. So we have already started negotiations and I hope they will be fruitful very soon,” he told reporters.

The artifacts will now be housed at the National Museum in Colombo and more are expected to follow.

“These objects represent an important cultural and historical value and they are back in Sri Lanka where they can be seen by the Sri Lankan public,” said Dewi Van de Weerd, Ambassador for International Cultural Cooperation.

“The value of returning these objects is important because it is about addressing historical injustices.”

The Netherlands returned over 300 artifacts to Indonesia earlier this year, according to its government.

Returning artifacts to former colonized countries is a long running and often sensitive issue.

A dispute between Britain and Greece over the ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures, known as the Elgin marbles, escalated last month, with both sides blaming the other for the cancellation of a planned meeting between their two leaders.

Greece has repeatedly called on the British Museum to permanently return the 2,500-year-old sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon temple in Athens in 1806, during a period when Greece was under Ottoman Turkish rule.

Zelenskyy to Address US Lawmakers Amid Debate About New Aid for Ukraine  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to address members of the U.S. Senate Tuesday amid a push by the White House for Congress to urgently approve new funding to help Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion. 


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Zelenskyy was invited to speak via video at a classified briefing “so we can hear directly from him precisely what’s at stake” when lawmakers vote on a bill that includes billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine. 


Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned in a letter to congressional leaders Monday that by the end of the year, the U.S. will no longer have the funds to send weapons and assistance to Ukraine. It “will not be able to keep fighting,” Young said of Ukraine, noting that the U.S. has already run out of money for propping up Ukraine’s economy.   


In October, the Biden administration asked Congress for nearly $106 billion to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. border security.   


Funding for Ukraine has become politically controversial with some right-leaning lawmakers in the narrowly Republican-controlled Congress.   


However, Young said in the letter released by the White House that cutting off funding and a flow of weapons to Ukraine would likely work to Russia’s advantage on the battlefield.   


“I want to be clear: Without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine, to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks,” she wrote. “There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment. We are out of money — and nearly out of time,” she said.




Diplomatic envoys of the EU’s 27 member countries will meet Tuesday to start debating a launch of EU membership talks with Ukraine, according to officials and diplomats.   


The meeting marks the start of preparations among the 27 for the December 14-15 summit of the bloc’s leaders that will also assess and decide on EU integration prospects for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia and others.   


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has demanded that Ukraine’s membership bid into the European Union not be on the agenda at the EU summit.  


In a letter he sent to European Council President Charles Michel, who will chair the summit in Brussels, Orban insisted that a “strategic discussion” is needed first about Ukraine’s European future and warned that forcing a decision could destroy EU unity.  


Orban, who is widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies in Europe, maintains that Ukraine is “light years away” from becoming an EU member.   


He wrote that EU leaders “must avoid this counterproductive scenario for the sake of unity, our most important asset.” He did not explicitly say that Hungary would veto any moves to open membership talks with Ukraine, but the threat was implicit.   


Decisions regarding EU membership and EU’s long-term budget, which includes $54.1 billion in assistance for Kyiv, can only be made unanimously by all 27 member countries.       


Ukraine-Russia fighting   


Russia’s defense ministry said Tuesday the country’s air defense systems destroyed or intercepted at least 35 Ukrainian drones.

The ministry said on Telegram it thwarted the attempted Ukrainian attacks over the Crimean Peninsula and the Sea of Azov.

Ukraine’s military said Tuesday that Russia attacked overnight with 17 Iran-made Shahed drones, with Ukrainian air defenses destroying 10 of the drones.

It also said Russia launched six guided missiles targeting the Donetsk and Kherson regions. 

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 


Niger Ends Security, Defense Partnerships with EU

Niger’s junta on Monday scrapped two key military agreements that the West African nation signed with the European Union to help fight the violence in Africa’s Sahel region as the country’s army leaders and a senior Russian defense official discussed military cooperation.

Before the coup that deposed the country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, Niger had been the West and Europe’s last major security partner in the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara Desert that Islamic extremist groups have turned into the global terror hot spot.

In a memo, Niger’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the government has decided to “withdraw the privileges and immunities granted” under the EU Military Partnership Mission in Niger that was launched in February and consequently “has no legal obligation” related to that partnership.

It also dismissed the EU Civilian Capacity-Building Mission established in 2012 to strengthen Niger’s internal security sector, effectively revoking its approval for the missions.

The developments are the latest in growing political tensions between Niger and the EU since the July coup.

In a rare visit on Sunday, a Russian delegation led by Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Yunus-Bek Yevkurov met with Niger’s junta leader, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, and Minister of State for National Defense Salifou Mody. The two sides held more meetings on Monday to discuss military and defense issues.

“At the center of the discussions is the strengthening of cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense,” Niger’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, hinting at formal political ties with Moscow, which has no embassy or military personnel in the country.

Most of Niger’s foreign economic and security allies have sanctioned the country, including France, which had 1,500 troops operating in Niger. All of them have been asked to leave.

Analysts say that although regional and international sanctions to force the junta to reverse its coup have squeezed the country, they have also emboldened the military government as it consolidates its hold on power and seeks new partnerships.

Russia has been active in parts of Africa through its private mercenary Wagner Group, from the Central African Republic, where the mercenary forces have helped provide security services to the government, to Mali, where they are partnering with the army in battling armed rebels and where the Yevkurov-led delegation also visited.

The Wagner Group was one of the first sources of help that the military leaders in Niger reached out to for support as they faced a possible military intervention from West Africa’s regional bloc of ECOWAS in a bid to reverse the coup.

British Troops Patrol Kosovo-Serbia Border as Tensions Remain High

British troops are patrolling the Kosovo-Serbia border as part of a NATO peacekeeping presence being bolstered amid concern that the former wartime foes could return to open conflict following a series of violent incidents in recent months.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization sent hundreds of additional forces to Kosovo from Britain and Romania after a battle between the authorities and armed Serbs holed up in a monastery turned a quiet village in northern Kosovo into a war zone on Sept. 24.

One police officer and three gunmen were killed in the village of Banjska in what was seen as the worst violence since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Kosovo accused Serbia of providing financial and practical support for the gunmen, which Belgrade denies.

NATO has sent 1,000 extra troops to the region, bringing its presence there to 4,500 peacekeepers from 27 countries. British soldiers are now being deployed in 18-hour shifts in freezing conditions to make sure no weapons or armed groups enter Kosovo.

“Currently we are here on a routine patrol, which consists of understanding patterns of life, gaining intelligence on any illegal or suspicious activity that then gets fed back to KFOR (NATO mission) and higher,” Lieutenant Joss Gaddie from the British Army told Reuters at the border with Serbia.

During a visit on Monday to the western Balkans, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the organization is reviewing whether a more permanent increase of forces was needed “to ensure that this doesn’t spiral out of control and creates a new violent conflict in Kosovo or in the wider region.”

Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority, declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising and a 1999 NATO intervention.

Around 5% of the population in Kosovo are ethnic Serbs, of which half live in the north and refuse to recognize Kosovo independence and see Belgrade as their capital. They have often clashed with Kosovo police and international peacekeepers.

For more than two decades many ethnic Serbs have refused to register vehicles with Kosovo car plates, using their own system instead which is seen as illegal by Pristina.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government has set a December 1 deadline for around 10,000 motorists to register their cars with Kosovo numbers or face heavy penalties. A similar request sparked violence last year.

Kyiv Suffers Largest Drone Attack Since Russian Invasion

Kyiv was rocked by a massive drone attack early Saturday, using Iranian-designed Shahed drones.

Five people, including a child, were wounded in the attack, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko’s Telegram post.

Ukraine’s air force said the attack was the largest drone attack since the beginning of Russia’s invasion.

The British Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily report on the invasion that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet’s ability to reload vessels with cruise missiles at its Novorossiysk base will likely be “a significant factor” in the effectiveness of the fleet.

The fleet has traditionally reloaded its cruise missiles at Sevastopol, but the Crimean facility is facing increasing risk of being hit by Ukrainian long-range strikes.

The British intelligence update said Novorossiysk would be a better alternative site, but that move would require relocating and reloading the missiles and would also require new delivery, storage, handling and loading processes.

Last month, Ukraine said Russia was having logistical problems with firing cruise missiles from Novorossiysk.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that his country was looking for “three victories” from its Western allies, including the passage of two military aid packages — by the United States and the European Union — and the formal start of talks to join the European bloc.

“We need three victories. The first one is the victory with U.S. Congress. It’s a challenge, it’s not easy, but Ukraine is doing everything,” Zelenskyy told a news conference in Kyiv.

President Joe Biden has proposed billions of dollars in new assistance for Ukraine, but the funding was not included in a stopgap measure Congress passed this month.

Some Republican lawmakers oppose approving more aid for Ukraine, but a majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress still support the additional aid.

In a statement Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken appealed to lawmakers to support Biden’s latest funding request for Ukraine military aid.

“Helping Ukraine defend itself … helps prevent larger conflict in the region and deters future aggression, which makes us all safer,” Blinken said.

Zelenskyy said the second “victory” needed abroad was that “we need the help from the EU on the 50 billion-euro package,” and “the third is to open a dialog about our future membership.”

The European Union recently announced a 50 billion-euro package for Ukraine, but it has not yet been approved and is facing opposition by Hungary. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also said he is opposed to launching EU membership talks with Kyiv.

Zelenskyy made the comments at a joint news conference in Kyiv with Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics, who expressed optimism that the EU aid package for Ukraine would eventually pass.

Moldova sanctions

In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that it viewed Moldova’s decision to join EU sanctions against it as a hostile step.

“We regard this as yet another hostile step by the Moldovan leadership, which is fully integrated into the anti-Russian campaign of the ‘collective West,'” the ministry said in a statement.

“Its aim is the complete destruction of Russian-Moldovan relations,” it said.

Moldova’s parliament agreed to the sanctions against Russia on Friday, part of the country’s bid to eventually join the European Union.

Russian crackdown

Russia’s Justice Ministry said Friday that former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who later became a critic of the Kremlin, had been added to a registry of foreign agents.

Kasyanov served as prime minister for the first four years of Putin’s administration but was fired in 2004.

He later became a prominent opposition figure, and after leaving the country in 2022, he criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The foreign agent law has been used against opposition figures and independent news media. It requires those designated as foreign agents who publish information to prominently label that the material comes from a foreign agent.


The Russian Defense Ministry said its missile defenses downed 13 Ukrainian drones over Crimea and three more over the Volgograd region early Friday.

Ukrainian officials did not comment on the Russian report.

Also Friday, officials in Ukraine said Russian forces were escalating their attacks on the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka.

Russia has been trying to capture the city since mid-October, in a brutal battle that has drawn parallels to the fight for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which Russia eventually captured after months of intense fighting.

The city sits on the front line five kilometers from Donetsk, the Russian-controlled capital of the region, one of four regions Moscow said it annexed from Ukraine.

The British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update on the war that Russia continued to face “mass casualties from Ukrainian long-range precision strikes well behind the front line.”

The ministry said that on November 10, more than 70 Russian troops were probably killed in a strike on a truck convoy 23 kilometers behind the front line in Hladkivka, a village in Kherson oblast. Then, the ministry said, a November 19 strike on an award ceremony or concert in Kumachove, 60 kilometers behind the lines, probably caused “tens” of casualties.

Ukraine, though, has suffered similar casualties, the update said, adding that a Russian missile killed 19 members of a Ukrainian brigade at a medal ceremony November 3.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Pope Cancels Saturday Activities Because of Mild Flu

Pope Francis canceled his morning audiences on Saturday because of mild flu, the Vatican said in a statement.

The 86-year-old pontiff holds regular meetings with Vatican officials on Saturdays as well as private audiences.

Earlier this month, the pope skipped reading a prepared speech for a meeting with European rabbis as he was suffering from a cold, but he appeared to be in good health during a meeting with children just hours later.

In June, he had surgery on an abdominal hernia. He spent nine days in hospital and appears to have recovered fully from that operation.

The pope’s next public appearance is scheduled for Sunday, when he is expected to address crowds in his weekly Angelus message in St. Peter’s Square.

Francis is also scheduled to attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai from Dec. 1-3, where he is expected to have nearly an entire day of bilateral meetings with world leaders attending the event. The conference runs from Nov. 30-Dec. 12. 

Russian Lawmaker Disputes Report He Adopted Child Taken from Ukraine

A Russian lawmaker and staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin has denied media allegations that he adopted a missing 2-year-old girl who was removed from a Ukrainian children’s home and changed her name in Russia.

Sergey Mironov, 70, the leader of political party A Just Russia, asserted on social media that the Ukrainian security services and their Western partners concocted a “fake” report to discredit true Russian patriots like himself.

His statement, posted on X, followed the BBC and independent Russian news outlet Important Stories publishing an investigation Thursday that said Mironov adopted a child named Margarita Prokopenko who was allegedly taken to Moscow at the age of 10 months by the woman to whom he is now married.

Mironov accused the two news organizations of having only “one goal — to discredit those who take an uncompromising patriotic position.”

“You are trying in vain,” he wrote, adding that Russia would win its war in Ukraine.

The office of the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner told The Associated Press it was looking into the news report.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for children’s rights in Putin’s office, accusing them of committing war crimes through their involvement in the abduction of children from Ukraine.

Bill Van Esveld, associate director of the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said Friday that the agency could not independently confirm the BBC and Important Stories’ findings. But he thinks the deportation of the girl to Russia, her adoption and her name change would be “a black and white war crime.”

The investigation by the BBC and Important Stories said Margarita was collected in August 2022 from a home for children needing specialized medical care or missing parents in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, which was occupied by Russian soldiers at the time.

The news organizations identified a woman who had visited the baby in Kherson before a group of Russian men removed the child from the home as Inna Varlamova, 55, who later married Mironov. The investigation also cited a birth record created several months later that listed Mironov and Varlamova as the parents of child named Marina who was born Oct. 31, 2021 — Margarita’s birthday.

Ukrainian authorities have estimated that around 20,000 children were sent out of the country without their parents’ knowledge or under false pretenses since Russia invaded in February 2022. A study by Yale University found more than 2,400 Ukrainian children aged 6-17 have been taken to Belarus from four regions of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

The AP reported in Oct. 2022 that Russian officials deported Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories without consent, told them they weren’t wanted by their parents and gave them Russian families and citizenship.

Vira Yastrebova, director of Eastern Human Rights Group, a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization, said Russian authorities were increasingly placing children into Russian foster families for eventual adoption instead of temporary guardianship.

Because Russian law makes it very difficult to find information about adoptions, it is therefore easy “to hide any information” about the children, Yastrebova said.

The Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, maintained in September that Russia does not “kidnap” Ukrainian children but is “saving” them.

Russia has said it will return children to their families once a parent or guardian requests it. But, because many Ukrainian families do not know where their children were taken, they are unable to make the requests.

Even when children are located, reuniting them with their families during the ongoing war often is a complicated process, involving a lot of paperwork and international border crossings. Pope Francis tasked his Ukraine peace envoy earlier this year with trying to get young Ukrainians returned to their country.

The transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia will affect them profoundly and have “a lifelong impact,” Van Esveld told the AP in a phone interview Friday.

“They have no opportunity to go back to their community or country and their development, right to education and right to form their own identity without coercion — is impacted,” he said.

Israel to Summon Spanish, Belgian Ambassadors Following Criticism During Rafah Visit 

The Israeli government said Friday that it would summon the Belgian and Spanish ambassadors following remarks by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his Belgian counterpart Alexander de Croo on the war between Israel and Hamas. 

The announcement came after the two leaders criticized Israel for the suffering of Palestinian civilians under Israeli military operations in Gaza. Sanchez also called for European Union recognition of a Palestinian state, saying Spain might do so on its own. 

Speaking at a joint news conference Friday on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, Sanchez said the time had come for the international community and the European Union to once and for all recognize a Palestinian state. He said it would be better if the EU did it together, “but if this is not the case … Spain will take their own decisions.” 

Sanchez was speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt with de Croo. Spain currently holds the EU’s rotational presidency and Belgium takes over in January. 

Sanchez reiterated comments made Thursday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the killing of civilians. 

“I also reiterate Israel’s right to defend itself, but it must do so within the parameters and limits imposed by international humanitarian law, and this is not the case,” Sanchez said. “The indiscriminate killing of civilians, including thousands of boys and girls, are completely unacceptable.” 

‘First things first’

De Croo did not comment on recognition of a Palestinian state, but said, “First things first, let’s stop the violence. Let’s liberate the hostages. Let’s get the aid inside … the first priority is [to] help people who are suffering.” 

De Croo stressed the need and hope for a permanent cease-fire, adding that this “needs to be built together. And it can only be built together if both parties understand that the solution to this conflict is never going to be violence. A solution to this conflict is that people sit around the table.” 

“A military operation needs to respect international humanitarian law. The killing of civilians needs to stop now. Way too many people have died. The destruction of Gaza is unacceptable,” he said. 

“We cannot accept that a society is being destroyed the way it is being destroyed,” he added. 

Israel later lashed out at the two prime ministers “for not placing full responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas, who massacred our citizens and used the Palestinians as human shields.” 

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen instructed the countries’ ambassadors to be summoned for a sharp reprimand. “We condemn the false claims of the prime ministers of Spain and Belgium who give support to terrorism,” Cohen said. 

“Israel is acting according to international law and fighting a murderous terrorist organization worse than [the Islamic State group] that commits war crimes and crimes against humanity.” 

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares responded to the summoning of Spain’s ambassador late Friday. 

“The Israeli government’s accusations against the president of the government and the Belgian prime minister are totally false and unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “We categorically reject them.” 

Albares said the Spanish prime minister has publicly and repeatedly defended Israel’s right to self-defense and that his tour in the region this week was seeking “a path to peace.”

French Foreign Minister: China’s Cooperation Vital to Ending Russia-Ukraine War

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Friday that China’s cooperation is vital on an issue that has divided it and much of Europe: ending the war in Ukraine.

She encouraged China to continue working on its Ukrainian peace proposal while also ensuring that Chinese entities do not aid Russia in what she called “the ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine” — phrasing the Chinese side would disagree with.

“France underlines once again how its cooperation with China is essential to promote a just and lasting peace,” she said after talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. “We are counting on the vigilance of the Chinese authorities so that no structure in China, particularly private, contributes directly or indirectly to Russia’s illegal war effort in Ukraine.”

Her meetings in Beijing underscored an effort by both sides to continue a dialogue despite their growing differences, whether on the Ukraine war, the Israel-Hamas war or Europe’s huge trade deficit with China. The talks in some ways foreshadowed an EU-China leaders meeting next month.

In a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang earlier in the day, Colonna said their countries should work together to address issues such as climate change and biodiversity. A major U.N. climate conference starts next week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“As big powers, we both share the responsibility to tackle global challenges … and we can make concerted efforts in alleviating tensions around the world,” she said.

China has been critical of U.S. efforts to seek the help of its allies, including in Europe, in its competition with China over trade, technology and security. It has accused the U.S. of building groupings to contain China’s development and rise.

Wang warned against the politicizing of issues and protectionism. The European Union has been taking a tougher line on China, launching a trade investigation into subsidies given to Chinese electric vehicle makers.

“We believe that as long as China and Europe work together, there will be no confrontation between camps, no division of the world, and no new Cold War,” Wang said.

The Chinese government has refrained from criticizing Russia’s invasion or the Hamas attack that sparked its latest war with Israel, taking a different stance than many in Europe and the United States. It has accused the West of prolonging the European conflict by supplying arms to Ukraine and called for an end to the fighting in both wars.

Colonna said that dialogue with China on the Gaza situation, and even cooperation, would be useful. She called for the release of all the hostages, including eight French-Israeli citizens, three of whom are children.

“Every state has the right to defend itself, but we must cooperate so that terrorism is contained and so that what happened cannot happen again,” she said.

Her trip came shortly after a delegation of foreign ministers from Muslim-majority countries and territories visited China and France as part of a series of meetings with permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to push for a cease-fire in Gaza.

A four-day truce in the war started Friday.

Despite their differences, China has been trying to repair its relations with major trading partners including Europe, the U.S. and Australia. The lifting of China’s pandemic restrictions last December has helped, making it much easier to hold in-person meetings.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited China in April followed by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in July.

“Relations between China and France are getting better and better in all aspects,” Premier Li, the country’s No. 2 leader, said. “In particular, our exchanges at all levels are now becoming more frequent because many of the mechanisms have been restored.”

Wang tried to reassure European companies that China remains a good and safe place to do business. New regulations have added uncertainty to the business environment and made foreign investors wary at a time when China is seeking investment to help revive a sluggish economy.

“We will listen to the voices of the European business community, earnestly solving the problems of investors in China,” he said.

Putin to Boost AI in Russia to Fight ‘Unacceptable and Dangerous’ Western Monopoly

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday announced a plan to endorse a national strategy for the development of artificial intelligence, emphasizing that it’s essential to prevent a Western monopoly.

Speaking at an AI conference in Moscow, Putin noted that “it’s imperative to use Russian solutions in the field of creating reliable and transparent artificial intelligence systems that are also safe for humans.”

“Monopolistic dominance of such foreign technology in Russia is unacceptable, dangerous and inadmissible,” Putin said.

He noted that “many modern systems, trained on Western data are intended for the Western market” and “reflect that part of Western ethics, norms of behavior, public policy to which we object.”

During his more than two decades in power, Putin has overseen a multi-pronged crackdown on the opposition and civil society groups, and promoted “traditional values” to counter purported Western influence — policies that have become even more oppressive after he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Putin warned that algorithms developed by Western platforms could lead to a digital “cancellation” of Russia and its culture.

“An artificial intelligence created in line with Western standards and patterns could be xenophobic,” Putin said.

“Western search engines and generative models often work in a very selective, biased manner, do not take into account, and sometimes simply ignore and cancel Russian culture,” he said. “Simply put, the machine is given some kind of creative task, and it solves it using only English-language data, which is convenient and beneficial to the system developers. And so an algorithm, for example, can indicate to a machine that Russia, our culture, science, music, literature simply do not exist.”

He pledged to pour additional resources into the development of supercomputers and other technologies to help intensify national AI research.

“We are talking about expanding fundamental and applied research in the field of generative artificial intelligence and large language models,” Putin said.

“In the era of technological revolution, it is the cultural and spiritual heritage that is the key factor in preserving national identity, and therefore the diversity of our world, and the stability of international relations,” Putin said. “Our traditional values, the richness and beauty of the Russian languages and languages of other peoples of Russia must form the basis of our developments,” helping create “reliable, transparent and secure AI systems.”

Putin emphasized that trying to ban AI development would be impossible, but noted the importance of ensuring necessary safeguards.

“I am convinced that the future does not lie in bans on the development of technology, it is simply impossible,” he said. “If we ban something, it will develop elsewhere, and we will only fall behind, that’s all.”

Putin added that the global community will be able to work out the security guidelines for AI once it fully realizes the risks.

“When they feel the threat of its uncontrolled spread, uncontrolled activities in this sphere, a desire to reach agreement will come immediately,” he said.

The Netherlands’ Longtime Ruling Party Says It Won’t Join New Government Following Far-Right’s Win

A senator from the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom was appointed Friday to investigate possible governing coalitions after the far-right party’s election victory, while the party of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it would support a center-right administration in parliament but not join the next government.

The Party for Freedom, or PVV, led by veteran anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, won 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house, indicating a seismic shift to the right for the Netherlands. Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy won 24 seats, 10 fewer than in the previous election, according to a near complete count of Wednesday’s votes.

After a meeting of party leaders at the parliament, PVV Senator Gom van Strien was appointed to investigate possible coalitions. Newly elected lawmakers will debate his findings on December 6.

Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, the new leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, tweeted that after losing 10 seats in the election, the longtime ruling party would “make possible and constructively support a center-right Cabinet with good policies,” but wouldn’t join a government.

Wilders called the decision, which was announced before formal coalition talks had begun, “extremely disappointing.”

The election result and appointment of Van Strien pave the way for Wilders to take the lead in forming a new coalition and potentially to succeed Rutte as prime minister. However, he will likely have to convince potential coalition partners that he would tone down some of his anti-Islam policies.

His party’s election platform states that the Netherlands “is not an Islamic country. No Islamic schools, Qurans and mosques.”

One potential coalition partner for Wilders is the recently formed New Social Contract party, or NSC, which won 20 seats. The party’s centrist leader, Pieter Omtzigt, said he couldn’t accept “unconstitutional” policies.

Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution outlaws discrimination “on grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or on any other grounds.”

In an election-night victory speech, Wilders pledged not to push any policies that would breach Dutch law or the constitution.

His foreign policy also has raised concern among the Netherlands’ allies, Dutch caretaker Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said Friday.

Wilders’ election program says, “We will not send our money and defense equipment such as F-16s to Ukraine.”

“I hope and expect that the support will remain,” Ollongren told reporters in The Hague. She said she had received concerned calls about the issue since the election.

The caretaker administration led by Rutte will remain in office until a new coalition is formed.

In August, Rutte said that the Netherlands and Denmark would send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help the fight against Russia’s invading forces. An international training hub for F-16 pilots including from Ukraine was opened earlier this month in Romania.

Rutte tweeted Friday that he had held one of his regular calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“The Netherlands stands with the people of Ukraine and supports Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” Rutte said.

Irish Police Arrest 34 in Dublin Rioting Following Stabbings Outside School

Irish police arrested 34 people after suspected far-right protesters in central Dublin attacked police, damaged shops and set fire to vehicles Thursday night following the stabbing of three children by an unidentified man earlier in the day.

The head of the Irish police, Commissioner Drew Harris, said one officer was seriously injured in the violence that began after news spread that a 5-year-old girl was receiving emergency medical treatment at a Dublin hospital following the attack outside a school. At least 100 people took to the streets, some armed with metal bars and covering their faces.

Harris described the protesters as a “complete lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology.”

Police said over 400 officers, including many in riot gear, were deployed throughout the city center to contain the unrest, which they said was “caused by a small group of thugs.” A cordon was set up around the Irish Parliament building, Leinster House, and mounted officers were dispatched to nearby Grafton Street.

“These (riots) are scenes that we have not seen in decades, but what is clear is that people have been radicalized through social media and the internet,” Harris told reporters on Friday.

“But I don’t want to lose focus on the terrible event in terms of the dreadful assault on schoolchildren and their teacher. There’s a full investigation ongoing. There’s also a full investigation in respect on the disorder.”

Russian Consumers Feel Themselves in a Tight Spot as High Inflation Persists

The shelves at Moscow supermarkets are full of fruit and vegetables, cheese and meat. But many of the shoppers look at the selection with dismay as inflation makes their wallets feel empty.

Russia’s Central Bank has raised its key lending rate four times this year to try to get inflation under control and stabilize the ruble’s exchange rate as the economy weathers the effects of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and the Western sanctions imposed as a consequence.

The last time it raised the rate — to 15%, doubled that from the beginning of the year — the bank said it was concerned about prices that were increasing at an annualized pace of about 12%. The bank now forecasts inflation for the full year, as well as next year, to be about 7.5%.

Although that rate is high, it may be an understatement.

“If we talk in percentage terms, then, probably, (prices) increased by 25%. This is meat, staple products — dairy produce, fruits, vegetables, sausages. My husband can’t live without sausage! Sometimes I’m just amazed at price spikes,” said Roxana Gheltkova, a shopper in a Moscow supermarket.

Asked if her income as a pensioner was enough to keep food on the table, customer Lilya Tsarkova said: “No, of course not. I get help from my children.”

Without their assistance, “I don’t know how to pay rent and food,” the 70-year-old said.

Figures from the state statistical service Rosstat released on Nov. 1 show a huge spike in prices for some foods compared with 2022 — 74% for cabbage, 72% for oranges and 47% for cucumbers.

The Russian parliament has approved a 2024-26 budget that earmarks a record amount for defense spending. Maxim Blant, a Russian economy analyst based in Latvia, sees that as an indication that prices will continue to rise sharply.

“It is simply impossible to solve the issue of inflation in conditions … when the military-industrial complex receives unlimited funding, when everything they ask for is given to them, when the share of this military-industrial complex in the economy grows at a very rapid pace,” he told The Associated Press.

The central bank’s rate hikes have slightly cooled the ruble’s exchange rate slide — the rate is now about 88 to the U.S. dollar from over 100 earlier. But that’s still far higher than in the summer of 2022, when it was about 60 to the dollar.

That keeps the cost of imports high, even as import possibilities shrink due to Western sanctions.

Russia Launches Fierce, Costly Attacks on Ukraine City

Russia, which had bombarded the eastern city of Avdiivka for weeks, is now sending waves of troops toward the destroyed but strategically important spot in eastern Ukraine — and suffering terrible losses, Ukrainian senior officials and soldiers said Thursday.

“The fields are just littered with corpses,” Oleksandr, a deputy of a Ukrainian battalion in the 47th mechanized brigade, told Agence France-Presse.

“They are trying to exhaust our lines with constant waves of attacks,” he said. He declined to provide his full name for security reasons.

It is a strategy similar to the one Russia used against Bakhmut, a city it eventually captured.

Since mid-October, Russia has been trying to wrest the small city from Ukraine with no success, the Ukrainians say. The city sits on the front line 5 kilometers from Donetsk, the Russian-controlled capital of the region, one of four regions Moscow said it annexed from Ukraine.

Russia-backed separatists captured Avdiivka in 2014 and held it briefly before Ukrainian forces took it back and have been fortifying it ever since.

About 1,400 residents remain of the city’s prewar population of 32,000, said Vitaliy Barabash, head of Avdiivka’s military administration, who described the Russian onslaught as fierce.

“As regards the city, there is an average number of eight to 16 to 18 air attacks per day. Sometimes 30. We don’t have time to count them,” Barabash told Channel 24 television on Thursday. Russian reports on the war rarely mention Avdiivka.

Reuters could not independently verify battle reports from either side.

Earlier Thursday, four people were killed and five were wounded in Russian shelling in Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson on Thursday, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said more than 60 residential and infrastructure buildings were damaged in the attack.

“It is preliminarily known that the shelling was carried out with cluster munitions,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said on Telegram. VOA could not independently verify that report.

The Russian army abandoned Kherson late last year but still regularly targets the area from the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.

Meanwhile, Russian state television said Thursday one of its journalists died after being hurt in a Ukrainian drone attack in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine.

The Russian network announced the death of Boris Maksudov a day after the Russian defense ministry said he was hit while working in Zaporizhzhia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used part of his nightly address Wednesday to highlight new military aid packages from allies that he said include help for his country’s air defenses.

Zelenskyy said the aid would better protect Ukraine’s cities and towns from Russian attacks and that “Ukraine’s sky shield is getting more powerful literally every month.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Georgians Call for Ex-Leader’s Release on Revolution Anniversary

Hundreds of supporters from Georgia’s main opposition party gathered Thursday in the capital, Tbilisi, demanding their ex-leader’s release from prison on the 20th anniversary of the country’s pro-democracy revolution.

Mikheil Saakashvili spearheaded the bloodless Rose Revolution in 2003 and led the Black Sea nation for nine years before going into exile. After his return, he was arrested on abuse-of-power charges that rights groups say were politically motivated.

“The idea of a united, strong, democratic, European, free Georgia was a driving force of the Rose Revolution and its leader, Saakashvili,” a leader from his United National Movement (UNM) party, Tina Bokuchava, told the gathering.

“The terrible injustice of Saakashvili’s imprisonment must end,” she said.

Saakashvili, 55, has accused prison guards of mistreatment, and doctors have raised serious concerns about his health since he staged a 50-day hunger strike.

“The Rose Revolution has changed Georgia’s history for good, put it on a world map,” Saakashvili wrote on Facebook. “Our revolution has laid the ground for dismantling the post-Soviet Russian system and made Georgia an example to follow for the whole world.”

The Rose Revolution, which saw tens of thousands take to the streets against rigged elections and rampant corruption, reshaped Georgia and enabled sweeping political and economic reforms that helped to bring a more than threefold increase of per capita GDP.

But opponents have criticized the rule of its leaders – which saw police crackdowns on anti-government protests and abuse of inmates in prisons – as authoritarian.

The revolution also had a wider impact on post-Soviet countries such as Ukraine, where corrupt elites were ousted in the Orange Revolution the following year.

But the so-called “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan have led to confrontation with the Kremlin, which has perceived the popular uprisings as a threat to its influence in what it sees as its backyard.

Turkey’s Central Bank Hikes Interest Rates Again as It Tries to Tame Eye-Watering Inflation

Turkey’s central bank delivered another huge interest rate hike on Thursday as it tries to curb double-digit inflation that has left households struggling to afford food and other basic goods.

The bank pushed its policy rate up by 5 percentage points, to 40%, marking its sixth big interest rate hike in a row focused on beating down inflation that hit an eye-watering 61.36% last month.

However, the bank said its rate hikes would soon end.

“The current level of monetary tightness is significantly close to the level required to establish the disinflation course,” the bank said. “Accordingly, the pace of monetary tightening will slow down, and the tightening cycle will be completed in a short period of time.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long been a proponent of an unorthodox policy of cutting interest rates to fight inflation and had fired central bank governors who resisted his rate-slashing policies.

That runs counter to traditional economic thinking, and many blamed Erdogan’s unusual methods for economic turmoil that has included a currency crisis and an increasingly high cost of living.

Other central banks around the world have raised interest rates rapidly to target spikes in consumer prices tied to the rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and then Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Following Erdogan’s reelection in May, he appointed a new economic team, which has quickly moved toward reversing his previous policy of keeping interest rates low.

The team includes former Merrill Lynch banker Mehmet Simsek, who returned as finance minister, a post he held until 2018, and Hafize Gaye Erkan, a former U.S.-based bank executive, who took over as central bank governor in June.

Under Erkan’s tenure, the central bank has hiked its main interest rate from 8.5% to 40%.

EU Lawmakers Slam Iran’s Treatment of Women

The European Parliament on Thursday condemned what it said were Iran’s rights abuses against women, including “brutal murders,” and its detention of EU nationals.

A nonbinding resolution slammed the “deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran, and the brutal murders of women by the Iranian authorities, including the 2023 Sakharov Prize laureate Jina Mahsa Amini,” a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died last year in police custody.

Parliament members also called for the immediate release from detention of human rights defenders, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi.

The motion was adopted 516-4, with 27 abstentions.

Parliament members urged Tehran “to end immediately all discrimination against women and girls, including mandatory veiling, and to withdraw all gender discriminatory laws.”

Amini’s death last year sparked widespread street demonstrations against the Iranian government that security forces put down brutally.  Hundreds of people have been killed or executed in the repression, and thousands have been arrested.

In October, the European Parliament awarded the EU’s top rights honor, the Sakharov Prize, to Amini and to the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement that sprang up after her death.

European lawmakers reiterated a call for EU states to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a “terrorist organization” and for sanctions against the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other top officials for human rights violations.

They also condemned Iran’s “hostage diplomacy,” which European governments say Iran uses to extract concessions from the West or gain the release of Iranians imprisoned abroad.

Dutch ‘Trump’ Struggles to Form Government After Shock Election Win

Geert Wilders, the outspoken Dutch far-right leader who has frequently been compared to former U.S. President Donald Trump, is set to begin negotiations on forming a government after his shock win in Wednesday’s election.

However, Wilders is still dozens of seats short of a working majority, and it remains unclear whether other parties are willing to work with him and enter into a coalition government. Negotiations are expected to take several months.

Political earthquake

Dutch voters sent political shockwaves across Europe late Wednesday as exit polls showed a clear lead for the Freedom Party, led by Wilders. His party won 37 of the 150 seats available, easily beating his closest rival, a joint Labor and Green party ticket, which secured 25 seats.

The center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte won 24 seats in a disappointing night.

Wilders has long been a provocative figure in Dutch politics but has never before enjoyed this level of success. Following the result, the 60-year-old doubled down on his anti-migrant rhetoric.

“The people have spoken. The people said, ‘We are sick and tired of this. We will make sure the Dutch people will be number one again,’” he said.

“The Dutchman also has hope. The hope is that people get their country back. That we make sure that the Netherlands is for the Dutch again. That we will limit the asylum tsunami and migration,” Wilders told cheering supporters in The Hague as the scale of his victory became clear Wednesday.

“Less Islam”

Wilders’ party manifesto promises “less Islam in the Netherlands.” In 2016 he was convicted of inciting hatred and discrimination after leading a crowd chanting for fewer Moroccans in the country.

Minority groups have voiced concern at the election result, in a country where Muslims make up around 5% of the population. “We have great concerns about the future of Islam and Muslims in the Netherlands,” Muhsin Koktas of the Dutch Muslim organization CMO told Reuters.

Following his victory Wednesday, Wilders appeared to tone down his anti-Islam rhetoric. “If I become prime minister, I will be that for all Dutch people, regardless of who they are, their gender or religion, where they come from. For everyone,” he said.

Softened tone

That civilized tone won him voters during the campaign, said Rachid Azrout, a political analyst at the University of Amsterdam.

“Basically, what he said is, ‘Of course, my hatred for Islam will still be a part of me, but I will put it aside and that doesn’t need to be part of the government. So that way, I can become a more viable coalition partner,’” Azrout told VOA.

The election was held after the former government collapsed in July in a disagreement over a cap on the number of family members permitted to join immigrants in the country.

“Because the government collapsed on the topic of immigration, that made the topic really important in the campaign. And so then actually, Geert Wilders was the one that actually profited from that,” said Azrout.

Trump comparisons

Wilders’ mane of dyed blonde hair and conservative political agenda have drawn comparisons with Trump — a figure the Dutch politician has frequently praised in the past. Wilders’ program pledges “Netherlands first,” echoing the slogans of populist parties in Europe, the United States and beyond.

“This is the international trend — a huge, anti-establishment populist revolt all over the place, all over the world,” Rene Cuperus of the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch policy analyst group in The Hague, told Reuters.

Wilders has campaigned for the Netherlands to leave the European Union. He opposes Ukraine’s proposed membership of the bloc and wants to stop Dutch military support for Kyiv.

However, any coalition agreement will likely force Wilders to soften his stance.

“A large majority of the Dutch population, but also most of the political parties, are very much in favor of the Netherlands being part of the European Union, and also that we should support Ukraine in the war against Russia,” said analyst Azrout.

“And so, yes, Geert Wilders and his party, they say we should have a ‘Nexit’ — so that the Netherlands should leave the European Union — that we should have the guilder [old currency] back instead of the euro and not support Ukraine. But he realized, of course, that he is alone in that sense,” Azrout said.

Coalition talks

Wilders’ path to power will likely depend on whether the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, under new leader Dilan Yesilgoz — the daughter of Turkish immigrants — is willing to form a coalition with the far-right party, along with the centrist New Social Contract party under Pieter Omtzigt.

Both Yesilgoz and Omtzigt said during the campaign that they did not want to work with Wilders, although his clear victory could pressure them into opening coalition talks.

The center-left has already ruled out any coalition with Wilders and said its job was now to defend democracy. Analysts say a broad coalition between left and right parties is seen as unlikely at this stage.

Party leaders are due to meet on Friday to choose an “explorer,” an independent go-between who will hear from each party on what possibilities they envisage in potential coalition talks.

Meanwhile, far-right leaders across Europe sent Wilders their congratulations.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the “winds of change” had arrived, while France’s Marine Le Pen said it was a “spectacular performance.”

10 Years After ‘Euromaidan’ Protests, Ukraine’s EU Future Still Hangs in Balance

Ten years ago, thousands of Ukrainians gathered in Kyiv’s Independence Square to demand a European future for their country. Their actions set into motion a decade of revolution, turmoil and conflict, culminating in Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022.

A decade on from the protests, Ukraine’s path in the European Union is set to be decided at an upcoming summit in Brussels.


In late November 2013, under intense pressure from Russia, Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of signing an association agreement with the European Union, opting instead to sign a loan and energy deal with Moscow.

His decision triggered fury among Ukrainians who dreamed of a democratic future in the EU, outside the political orbit of Russia. Thousands of protesters filled Kyiv’s Maidan Square, waving the twin blue and gold colors of the Ukrainian and European Union flags.

“Living under Yanukovych in Ukraine was humiliating. Nobody cared about the people. The authorities didn’t hide their criminal, completely pro-Russian nature,” said Dmytro Riznychenko, who took part in the demonstrations. “We wanted to find human dignity. We wanted freedom.”

“Revolution of dignity”

After several days of peaceful protests, Ukrainian police converged to clear Independence Square in a brutal crackdown on the show of dissent. In response, thousands more Ukrainians joined the protests from across the country. In the grip of winter, central Kyiv was barricaded by the demonstrators, as riot police formed lines to protect government buildings.

Heavily armed riot police tried to take back control of the capital in February 2014. In the violence, 108 protesters were killed, with dozens shot by police snipers. A global outcry triggered the resignation of Yanukovych, who fled to Russia.

The events became known as Ukraine’s “revolution of dignity.” Its victims are commemorated via memorials in Independence Square.

Russian invasion

Olga Tokariuk, who now works for the British policy group Chatham House, took part in the Euromaidan demonstrations.

“We had no idea what was ahead,” she told VOA. “Of course, we could not have imagined that there would be Russia’s invasion and that there would be war that would last for nine years already, that there would be Russia’s full-scale invasion, that millions of Ukrainians would have to leave their homes. Thousands would be killed in this war. Many of the people who were on the square in Maidan would be killed in this war.”

Russia forcefully annexed Crimea in March 2014, and fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine, a prelude to its full-scale invasion eight years later.

“Buffer zone”

Ukraine elected a pro-Western government following the revolution and demanded EU membership. But Brussels said Ukraine wasn’t ready — and that proved fateful, says Tokariuk.

“Ukraine paid a huge price for its desire to be a part of the European family, where it rightfully belongs. And unfortunately for a very long time, Ukraine was denied this possibility. Ukraine was kept in this back room somehow in, in limbo. Ultimately, that’s what compelled Russia to invade Ukraine on a large scale. It was left as a buffer zone,” Tokariuk said.

Ukraine is now engaged in a full-scale war against Russia. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed since Moscow’s invasion in February 2022.

EU summit

At a summit in Brussels next month, European leaders will decide whether to begin formal negotiations on Ukraine’s EU accession. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says it is his country’s destiny.

“Twenty years ago, it was a romantic dream. Ten years ago, it was an ambitious goal. And today it is a reality in which it is no longer possible to stop our progress,” he said in a televised address Tuesday, on the anniversary of the Euromaidan protests.

Visiting Kyiv to mark the anniversary, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, offered his support and urged the EU’s 27 member states to back Ukraine’s membership.

“Ukraine’s progress has been remarkable, especially during a full-blown war, and it continues to get closer to the EU,” Michel said. “Enlargement is a strategic investment for the EU — so it’s been for peace, prosperity and democratic values. I want to be clear I intend to do everything to convince my 27 colleagues that we need a positive decision in December.”

European hopes

It’s vital that the EU offers Ukraine hope for the future, said analyst Olga Tokariuk.

“It was a huge mistake to keep Ukraine in this waiting room for such a long time. So only with Ukraine fully integrated into the European Union — but also into NATO — peace is possible on the entire European continent. It will be blow to Russia, of course, because that would mean that Ukraine has once and for good departed from the so-called Russian sphere of influence,” Tokariuk said.

Ten years since the Euromaidan protests, Ukraine has suffered death and destruction on a scale few could have imagined.

“Because the sequence of events that followed was so dramatic and so tragic, I think myself — and many people who were there at Maidan — we ask ourselves occasionally, was it worth it? You know, if we knew what would follow, would we still go out to the square and protest? And the answer in most cases is ‘yes,’” Tokariuk told VOA.

Russian TV Says Ukrainian Drone Attack Killed Journalist 

Russian state television said Thursday one of its journalists died after being hurt in a Ukrainian drone attack in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine.

The Russian network announced the death of Boris Maksudov a day after the Russian defense ministry said he was hit while working in Zaporizhzhia.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said Thursday that Russian shelling killed one person and injured another in southern Ukraine’s Kherson region.

The officials said the areas hit by the Russian shelling included a residential building.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used part of his nightly address Wednesday to highlight new military aid packages from allies that he said include help for his country’s air defenses.

Zelenskyy said the aid would better protect Ukraine’s cities and towns from Russian attacks and that “Ukraine’s sky shield is getting more powerful literally every month.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.